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Digging Beneath a New York City Landmark Church

Reprinted from Tramac's newsletter Breaking News - April 2003

New York, NY. When the beautiful Gothic style Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church was constructed in 1873, its 286 foot (88 meter) spire was the tallest in New York City. The interior is more modern in design -- unlike the formality of a Gothic cathedral -- with no right angles. All pews flow outward from the pulpit. Brilliant stained glass windows were designed to allow ample light into the interior.

Preserving and protecting this striking landmark was of primary importance when the time came to begin the current large-scale expansion and enhancement. Before Urban Foundation Engineering, Elmhurst, NY, broke ground in May, 2003, the interior was boarded up, the large organ pipes removed (to be replaced by new ones), much of the exterior of the building covered, and a sidewalk shelter installed. Support columns were placed inside the nave and temporary steel beams in the basement to support the sanctuary floor.

New Sub-Basement for More Space

While some of the work was done "upstairs" -- enlarging the main lobby to alleviate congestion and enhancing the sanctuary with new support beams and fire protection -- the major part of the project happened down below. A new sub-basement was being dug under the existing basement and the walls were extended outward to create 12,000 sq. ft. of new space. This will function in part as a Christian Education Center with a gathering hall, nine multi-purpose rooms and a recording studio.

According to Benny DiGiorgio, Chairman of Urban Foundation, a 150 foot (46 meter) long ramp was built alongside the structure to bring excavation equipment below street level. Aside from the obvious challenges -- Fifth Avenue traffic, noise considerations, ventilation, etc. -- there was the problem of getting carriers and hammers into the small opening they created in the foundation of the building.

New York City bedrock is extremely hard and requires powerful equipment to break through. Joel Wunderlich, Superintendent for Urban, says it was even more challenging than expected because the rock seams they encountered ran horizontally; vertical seams cooperate better with the downward thrust of the hammer

The Equipment List

TRAMAC breaker in church

Urban brought in a Tramac V46, mounted on a CAT 963, for the main breaking chore. Once the big stuff was out of the way, "walls" were smoothed with a Tramac 400 mounted on a Komatsu PC75, a second 400 mounted on a Case 855, and a Tramac 85 on a Komatsu PC40.

The three carriers and the 400 and 85 hammers were rented to Urban by Charles Lobosco & Son, Flushing, NY. Jessie Polizzi, Lobosco Manager, told us the "hammers were holding up extremely well in these hard conditions." He had been expecting more problems. When we spoke to him midway through the project, he reported that not even a tool had broken!

We attribute this fine performance in part to an experienced operator and in part to the patented Tool Protection System on our large hammers. The front guide, bushings and retainer pins are designed to let the strongest points take the stress, protecting wear parts and lengthening the life of the tools.

We also know that the job of breaking extremely hard rock is aided significantly by the variable impact feature found on these large machines. V-Series breakers sense changes in hardness in the material being processed and automatically adjust to the optimum combination of power and striking speed.

Customizing with a Little Ingenuity

Alessi and crew underground with Tramac breaker

We met with Ray and Gerry Alessi (Alessi Equipment Inc., Mt. Vernon, NY) at the job site. Alessi is the dealer who sold the hammers being used. Ray told us he would have liked to bring in the heaviest hitter, the V65, for this project -- the rock is that hard and there's so much of it. However, the size of the access hole and the height of the work area -- only 10 1/2 feet when the job started -- severely limited his choice of equipment.

As it is, it took engineering ingenuity to work with the V46 on the CAT 963 front end loader. For one thing, the loader's cab had to be removed and the exhaust system re-routed. The carrier boom and hammer couldn't function in the low space so Alessi created a new bracket cap which mounted further down on the hammer.

Work is expected to be completed shortly with the pouring of a concrete slab floor for the new sub-basement and the finishing of walls, stairway, elevator pit and permanent supports.

Fund Raising and a Mission

The congregation's goal is to raise $36 million to fund their building needs through their Crossroads Campaign. Ten percent of the monies are being set aside as a mission tithe and will be distributed to organizations that provide housing for the homeless, and services for the elderly and children affected by HIV/AIDS.